After handily winning parliament's vote of confidence Dec. 28 with 87 out of 92 votes, Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri and his new unity government will now tackle their top priorities, which include protecting Lebanon from fallout from the Syrian civil war.
Other leading items on the agenda include approving a 2017 budget, stimulating the economy, and taking immediate action to address electricity and water problems as well as difficulties with traffic and solid waste treatment. Priorities also include developing a strategy to prevent corruption, fighting terrorism and speeding up license approvals for oil exploration and extraction.
Hariri managed Dec. 18 to form the first government in two years, under President Michel Aoun, despite differences that erupted between the major blocs over the number of ministers and their responsibilities.
Hariri’s national consensus government has a total of 30 ministers representing the country’s major parliamentary blocs and parties, with the exception of the Christian Phalanges Party, which rejected the state ministry position it was offered. The government includes seven state ministers, and six new state ministries have been established, for women's affairs, anti-corruption, presidential affairs, displaced citizens, human rights, and planning. The Planning Ministry had been abolished in 1977 and replaced with the Council of Development and Reconstruction.
The government includes 29 men and only one woman — Minister of State for Administrative Development Inaya Azzedine, the first veiled minister in the history of Lebanon. Azzedine is a member of the Shiite Amal Movement's political bureau.
Aoun and his party, the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM), have a large share of the ministries with eight, including the Foreign Ministry, the Defense Ministry, the Justice Ministry, and the Energy and Water Ministry.
In addition to the premiership, Hariri and members of his party, the Future Movement, have six portfolios, including Interior Ministry and the Telecommunications Ministry.
Besides Azzedine's position, the Amal movement led by parliament Speaker Nabih Berri has two portfolios: the Finance Ministry and Agriculture Ministry.
Meanwhile, the Shiite Hezbollah Party has two portfolios: the Industry Ministry and the Youth and Sports Ministry. The Shiites waived the Public Works Ministry to the Marada party, led by Suleiman Franjieh. Hezbollah made this gesture to thank Franjieh for backing down from his presidential candidacy; Hezbollah backed Aoun.
Hezbollah had signed a joint memorandum of understanding with Aoun's FPM on Feb. 6, 2006. The latter supported resistance positions during the Israeli war on Lebanon in July and August 2006, and later the Shiite group’s intervention in Syria. This led Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah to say: “We owe Gen. Aoun a debt until the day of judgment."
Giving Franjieh’s bloc a basic ministry was one of the main issues that delayed forming the government, as his bloc has only three parliament members, which is not enough to allow him to assume such a ministry. Also, the FPM wanted to prevent Franjieh from getting a basic ministry as punishment for competing with Aoun over the presidency.
However, the Lebanese Forces (LF) party led by Samir Geagea got four portfolios, including the post of deputy prime minister and the Health Ministry. The LF’s share was a reward from Aoun, who had worked out an arrangement with LF that allowed him to win the presidency. This came despite Aoun's and Geagea's being longtime foes.
Their arrangement earned LF a larger share of posts than it would normally have. The LF has only has eight parliament members, while the Future bloc has 33 members and got six ministers. For their part, the Amal and Hezbollah blocs have 26 parliament members and obtained five ministers. This led Hezbollah and its allies to object and refuse to give the LF five ministers or what is termed a "sovereign ministery" (the four sovereign ministries are defense, foreign affairs, interior, and finance). As such, the LF share was reduced to four ministers.
The ministerial statement was drafted in six days, though it was expected to take longer. The statement is a declaration of the government's political and economic visions and plans, and is submitted to parliament to win its confidence. However, the article related to the “resistance against the Israeli occupation” usually raises differences between the March 8 alliance and the March 14 coalition, which refuses to mention the Hezbollah resistance in the statement so as not to bestow legitimacy on the armed movement.
This time, however, the statement was drafted in a way that brought together the inaugural speech of the president and a declaration by the government of Tammam Salam when he was prime minister regarding the right to resist the Israeli occupation. The result was as follows: “We will spare no effort or resistance to liberate any Lebanese territory that is still under occupation or to protect our country from an enemy that still has ambitions regarding our land, water and national resources based on the responsibility of the state and its role in preserving Lebanon's sovereignty, independence and unity as well as the safety of the citizens. … The government emphasizes the right of the Lebanese citizens to resist the Israeli occupation, counter its aggressions and recover the occupied territories.”
A source close to Hezbollah told Al-Monitor on condition of anonymity that the party was satisfied with the statement.
The statement stressed the need to work on the imminent approval of a new and modern law for parliamentary elections, one that grants fair representation to all the Lebanese people. The elections are supposed to take place in May.
Adopting the electoral law will be the biggest challenge to the government as Aoun, Hezbollah, Amal and their allies are in favor of the proportional system, while parliament member Walid Jumblatt, the leader of the Druze bloc, is absolutely against it. The Future Movement and the LF also reject the law and either support the existing 1960 law,which is based on a majority system, or a mixed law that combines the majority and proportional systems.
The same source explained that should the 1960 majority law remain in place, Hezbollah would not lose any seats in parliament. Yet, the source added, the party wants the proportional system to be adopted to ensure that all groups and currents are fairly represented and to secure national fusion amid national, rather than sectarian, representation.
In this context, former Minister of State Karim Pakradouni told Al-Monitor that Aoun supports the proportional system but will accept another mixed or majority law that garners the support of all the other blocs.
Political analyst Yasser al-Hariri told Al-Monitor no bloc opposes the 1960 law, even if some blocs say they do. However, a new law that is based on the majority and proportional systems could be agreed upon provided it leads to the same results of the 1960 law.
Since Lebanon is a country of deals and national consensus, all parties likely would agree on an electoral law that satisfies the major sects and blocs, although Aoun, Hariri and Berri agree on adopting a new reformist modern law.
This Article has been cross-posted from Al Monitor News